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November 23, 2017
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Amy Winters’ Thunderstorm Dress uses Electroluminescent technology to light up in reaction to sound, bringing together science and nature within fashion. Photograph courtesy of Amy Winters.

When asked to sum up her work in a sentence or two, Amy Winters hesitates, "It's such a difficult one," the 28-year-old, London-based designer admits. "I'd say, oh gosh, I'd say my work is… It's a mixture between costume and fashion. It's almost like two different businesses. I'd say my work is clothing which reacts to the external environment. So, textiles which change colour in response to sound, sunlight, water and stretch."

Amy Winters uses Polymer Opal - a thin,
plastic film - to create striking garments
that change colour when stretched.
Photograph courtesy of Amy Winters.

Winters designs at the very intersection of fashion and technology for her two-year-old label, Rainbow Winters, which comes from her full name, Amy Konstanze Mercedes Rainbow Winters. She uses the latest technologies and applies them to textiles, to create her collection of statement pieces, many of which are accessible to fashion-conscious consumers; such as dresses that change colour when exposed to sunlight. For other projects, Winters designs with performance and drama in mind; for example, her Thunderstorm Dress is a bold creation with panels that illuminate like lightening in response to sound.

Winters' passion for textiles goes back to her days in secondary school, where she honed her talent with the help of an inspiring teacher. "My school was conservative and there wasn't much room for creativity, but my tutor was so creative and she taught me all about texture and colour," Winters recalls. "In all the other subjects you literally had to do everything by parrot learning, but she just said, 'Experiment, experiment, experiment!' So on my lunch breaks and after school I would experiment with different types of textiles. She taught me unconventional ways, for example, rather than painting, using the sewing machine as a paintbrush and doing whole 'paintings' like that."

The skills Winters acquired as a teenager took her to London's Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, where she focused her studies on Theatre Design. She began to explore wearable technology as a student, but it was later that the field really captivated her. After seeing an exhibition put on by the college's Future Textiles students and an HSBC television ad that featured an illuminated design by Gareth Pugh, Winters decided to reach out to people working in the industry.   

'...whoever was wearing [the Thunderstorm Dress] would take on the character of one of the elements and become this moving thunderstorm,' Winters explains. 'So when you spoke to the dress, she'd actually start lighting up.'

Though science didn't come naturally to her like art and design, Winters had no reservations. "I just jumped in, because you know, I was so rubbish at science," she says. "I didn't really care. I didn't know anything about it, so all I cared was that my fabrics could do amazing things." 

Since then, Winters has indeed been making fabrics that do amazing things, applying various technologies to her textiles. Some are commercially available, but for access to others that are new and developing, Winters reaches out to and collaborates with researchers. "Often R&D departments won't necessarily know how to approach the commercial world," she explains. "They'll have a basic technology and there are various applications, but most of them are in things like automobiles or hospitals - just really serious applications. So creative applications are quite nice because they get great pictures out of it." 

For example, when Winters heard about Polymer Opal - a material that changes colour when stretched - she went straight to its developers at the University of Cambridge. She then applied Polymer Opal to fabric and created her Liquid Fabric Stretch Reactive Bodysuit, which marked the first fashion-industry use for the innovative material.

Another of Winters' innovative showpieces is her Thunderstorm Dress, a collaboration with EL International, producers of Electroluminescent technology. Owner James Dadoun describes his product as, "A paper thin material that looks and feels like laminated paper with a small wire coming out the back which you plug into your power source, which can be mains or battery." Then, artwork that illuminates and animates is printed on the material.

Although Electroluminescent technology generally features on advertising and marketing materials, such as billboards and window displays, Winters made use of it for her Thunderstorm Dress. The dress has been exhibited in Milan as well as at London's House of Lords. "The idea was that whoever was wearing it would take on the character of one of the elements and become this moving thunderstorm," Winters explains. "So when you spoke to the dress, she'd actually start lighting up."

"I'm interested in mixing something like nature with technology, to make, I suppose, technology more poetic," she adds. "You know, it can be quite clinical and very utilitarian and serious, so I wanted to make it lighter and more interesting."

Justyna Strzeszynska in Rainbow Winters'
Oil Slick Leggings for her blog, StyleSkin.
Photograph by Sylvie Cordenner.
Courtesy of Justyna Strzeszynska.

One person who has seen the Thunderstorm Dress come to life is Alice Wilby, a freelance stylist and editor of FutureFrock, an online magazine that promotes ethical fashion. After meeting Winters in March, she was determined to showcase the designer's garments, and recently did so by using them in a music video for the band RSCA. Wilby, who has worked in TV and film and continues to explore the industries, says that Winters' pieces, "Made the performance come alive."

"I started doing what I'm doing not necessarily through a specific fascination with fashion but through a love of storytelling and narrative and image-making," she remarks. "So [Winters'] pieces are a dream to work with. They allow you to have quite a bit of scope and they spark your imagination."

Wilby praises Winters not only for her innovation, but also for making fashion fun, plain and simple. "It really does take you back to when you were little," Wilby says. "It's a theme for us girls, especially with your dressing up box and having fun with clothes when you're little. I think her pieces remind you of that…It's like putting on a cape and pretending to be Batman and running down into garden, except you're lighting up every time you speak."

Apart from the theatrical pieces like the Thunderstorm Dress, Winters also aims to produce more commercial designs, a fact that she says sets Rainbow Winters apart from the competition. "I've been the first one to make it commercial in a way, because I've made something for the everyday girl," she says. For example, at a recent pop-up shop during the Dublin Fashion Festival, she displayed dresses that she describes as, "Quite mainstream," with, "The extra special ingredient that they change colour."

At the Dubin pop-up, fashion blogger Justyna Strzeszynska met Winters and couldn't resist purchasing her A/W 2012-13 Oil Slick leggings, which retail for €169. Strzeszynska, whose mother worked as a clothing designer in her native Poland, says she was initially attracted to Winters' garments because of their vibrant colours, but invested in them because they combine a "wow-factor" with quality design. 

I think [Winters'] pieces remind you of ...putting on a cape and pretending to be Batman and running down into garden, except you're lighting up every time you speak.

Strzeszynska posted the looks on her blog StyleSkin, where she frequently models luxury brands like VersaceChristian Louboutin and Alexander McQueen. For her, though, the label doesn't necessarily matter. "It's not only about having a piece from a super famous designer, it's about having something unique: a unique fabric or unique pattern, and of course they have to be well made." 

That's exactly what she loves about the Oil Slick leggings. "They are very wearable, but they are very unique," she says. "I wore them with a black leather tunic and they just looked fantastic. Another time I wore them with a skirt - a totally different look. I have plenty of ideas for them."

Even with designs for everyday fashion lovers like Strzeszynska, Winters can't help but aim high for the future. In five years' time, she says she would like to have developed her own fabric and hints at the idea of one that changes texture. She also says she is looking more toward performance and the music industry, with her dream clients being Katy Perry, Bjork and Lady Gaga; three women who she thinks could help wearable technology find its place in mainstream fashion. "I've been in contact with all of them and they've all replied," she says. "So, watch this space."

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